Here’s the truth: Achieving oneness is not as simple as it sounds – and maybe not even as desirable. We can’t even contemplate the oneness of God without mixing in a little Trinitarian thinking. Yes, of course God is One. But then there’s the Christ, God-in-a-Body, not to mention that hard-to-pin-down Holy Spirit. Each of these members of the Trinity has their own personality, their own job description, their own story. Together, we say, they make One-God-in-Community. Because we love Oneness and we love community! But go ahead: try to explain this to someone who hasn’t grown up in a Trinitarian tradition. Three and one? Do you mean, like a three-in-one vacuum cleaner? Or a pudding cup with three flavors? Or a sleep sofa with a recliner option? It’s as awkward as it sounds. So awkward, that we need hyphens to hold all the parts together: Three-in-one.
Still, we keep trying, because we want it both ways: Oneness and diversity. We want to celebrate a solo God, without getting stuck on one image of God: Old White Man With a Beard, for example. That creative tension is in our United Church of Christ DNA. And as I think about it, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s helpful to remember that not even God does plain old oneness without a hyphen. Maybe it’s worth remembering, as we talking about being “Together, As One.” Three-conferences-in-one: Three conferences, each with their own personality, their own story. And within each conference, three times three times three times three (and so on) different faith communities, each with their own personality and their own story.
I wonder: How might our union be an occasion to honor those diverse personalities, voices, perspectives, stories, heartbreaks, hopes and gifts? How might we avoid at all costs the kind of oneness that mushes us all together, like three colors of Play Doh turned into one wad of brown? Instead, how might we be like variously colored prayer flags hung side by side on one long line? (Or insert your best metaphor here!)
If one image of God was enough, we wouldn’t need the Trinity. If one conference, one way of doing things, was enough, we wouldn’t need everyone else. But we do. We need us all.
Prayer: Dear God-in-Community, teach us to treasure the hyphens. Amen.
The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton is Pastor of Saugatuck Congregational Church, UCC, in Westport, CT.
(Read more about the proposal for the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island conferences to join together in forming a new conference.)
We invite users of this website to post comments in response to posts published here. In order to maintain a respectful community, we insist that comments be polite, respectful and tolerant of opposing viewpoints. We reserve the right to remove comments that are hostile, hateful or abusive to others, or that constitute personal attacks. In the interest of transparency, we highly recommend that users comment using their full names. For those who feel a need for more anonymity, however, we will allow posts using first names and last initial.